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March 19, 2007

Queenstown to Christchurch

Our stay in Queenstown was great. We had a nice second floor room with a view in a motel style unit with bath just around the corner and the kitchen on the first floor. We took the gondola ride to the top of the local mountain where they were launching hang gliders. We elected to watch rather than take the ride but the weather was very clear and the view from the top was spectacular. We also signed up for the cruise across Lake Wakatipu on the old (vintage 1910) steamship SS Earnslaw to the Walkers Pass sheep station for and afternoon wine tasting and antipasti snack. The homestead is still run as a sheep farm plus hosting tourists for wine tastings and dinners. It is a beautiful place with a million dollar view across the lake and I could easily understand why people wanted to live there.
From Queenstown we went south to Invercargill at the bottom end of the south island. It is one of the larger cities in NZ and is mostly a commercial town. The local Top 10 Park was full so we ended up in a motel unit complete with its own kitchen. We went to the local museum and drove down to Bluff, which is the southernmost point of the south island – complete with road signs to various cities around the world. We had a nice lunch at the local seafood restaurant overlooking the strait to Stewart Island. I had the famous Bluff Oysters!
From Invercargill, we backtracked north and west to Te Anau for our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. I learned that a Fjord is the name for a body of water created by a glacier so Cook was incorrect naming it a Sound! Since he didn’t venture into any of the sounds (or fjords) on the west coast because he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to sail out against the prevailing westerly wind and currents so he never saw the glaciers!
Our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound was on the ferro cement power yacht Waverley. It is a small boat capable of up to 10 passengers but we only had 7 aboard which was nice. They picked us up at our Park and took us to the dock where we took a small powerboat across the lake where there is a 700 mw hydro generating plant. This plant provides the electricity for the aluminum smelter in Bluff. From there, it is an hour drive up through a pass to the head end of Doubtful Sound where Waverley was waiting for us. Waverley’ skipper Dave and crew Odette were very good and seemed to enjoy their jobs which makes for an especially pleasant cruise.
It had been raining since the day before so the waterfalls were in full flow and were majestic. Even with the cloud cover and mist we were able to see a lot. After going out to the entrance to the Sound where there is a seal colony, Dave and Odette got out the fishing rods and she caught a nice Blue Cod to add to the nice buffet style dinner they served. We anchored in a small cove off the main arm of the sound and were all alone in a very tranquil setting up against the face of the vertical mountainside. Our cruise mates were a couple from England, a couple from Holland and a single fellow from England. They were all great to be with and we enjoyed their company. The next morning as we were motoring back, the sun came out so we got to see the mountains and waterfalls in sunlight. We ended up with the best of the weather with the rain providing the waterfalls followed by sunshine.
We checked back into the Te Anau Park for the night and the next day went east to Dunedin. It is a very Scottish city and we stumbled into the national championship Bagpipe Band competition! We stood on the street to watch the parade and went to the campus of Otego University where there were competitions that afternoon. It was another bright sunny day and a lot of fun. I couldn’t resist buying a tam made of the Gordon tartan that I wore for the events and will have as a nice reminder of our trip whenever I wear it in the future.
From Dunedin, we went inland and north up the Wataki River valley to Omarama. After checking in at the Top 10 Park, we drove north to the southern end of Lake Pukaki where there is a nice view across the lake of Mount Cook. It is the tallest peak in NZ at about 10,000 feet. There is snow on the top all year round and the weather was very clear so we got some good pictures of the mountains. The lake is fed by water runoff from the glaciers that produce what is called glacier flour (finely ground rock) and this gives the water a chalky cast and with the reflection of the blue sky it s a unique light creamy blue color. On the way back to the park, we stopped at the local salmon fish farm and bought a nice piece of fresh salmon that we had for dinner that night.
Yesterday (3/12) we drove to Christchurch and got a nice Chalet unit in the Top 10 Park here. It is very comfortable with en suite (toilet and shower) facilities and a full kitchen. This park is about the best Top 10 we have been in and are signed up for 5 days here while we explore Christchurch and make several day trips out of town.
Because of the rainy weather, we spent the afternoon in the Christchurch museum and walking around downtown. The museum was interesting as always and had a lot of history of the settlement of the area.
The museum had copies of posters put out by “The Canterbury Association” advertising opportunities for “reputable people with skills needed in the colony. I found myself wondering why someone living in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales in 1840 would have chosen New Zealand as their immigration destination. Their alternates choices would have also included Australia, America, Canada, and many other British colonies so why NZ? I don’t have an answer other than maybe they thought the other places were already “developed” and they wanted to go to a place that was just opening up to settlement. It could also be that NZ happened to be the place currently offering prepaid passage and land in exchange for a period of indentured work and they had also heard how beautiful it was.
While wandering around Christchurch, we went in to the lod college buildings that nowhouse a number of local craft shops. We found one run by a Maori fellow named Ben Te Karu who carves bone into pendants, ear rings, etc. His work is interesting and includes many Maori symbols. After talking with him, I asked him to make several as necklaces for me to give to the women in our family. We also visited a woodworking shop and I got several wood puzzles that have a NZ theme to them for the younger kids.
After several rainy cloudy days, the weather cleared and we drove to Littleton, the real harbor in the area and where the first settlers landed. There was a Princess cruise ship in the harbor and Christchurch was full of groups scurrying from place to place with their limited time ashore.
On Thursday we went into town again and walked through the outstanding botanical garden. Like Australia, it amazes me to think that just one or two decades after the settlement began, these people were planning ahead enough to layout and plant a botanical garden. I would have thought that survival and their own self interests would have taken priority in their lives and that there wouldn’t have been time for something as discretionary as a botanical garden! However, I am glad that they did it for all of us to enjoy today. It is spectacular and the trees and plantings are really special 170 years later.
Friday, we drove west to Author’s Pass, which is one of the few passes over the Southern Alps. You cross the flat Canterbury Plains and the mountains are in front of you like the backdrop on a stage. The weather was clear and sunny soothe view was great. The road up toArthur’s Pass is narrow and very windy so driving required concentration. There was fresh snow on the peaks. The NZ Department of Conservation has established many hiking (or tramping as they say) trails and cabins for people to enjoy through their national parks. It is a big activity here for locals and visitors alike.
The road continues across the pass to Greymouth on the west coast but we stopped at the pass since we had been through Greymouth on our way down the west coast. We had a nice lunch at the local café and drove back down that afternoon. I was reminded of the small size of NZ by the fact that even with mountains and steep winding roads, you can easily drive across even the widest part of this country in less than a day!
On Saturday, we checked out of the Christchurch Top 10 and drove out the Banks Peninsula to Akaroa. Cook named the peninsula for the botanist Joseph Banks who was with him on his first voyage. The peninsula was formed by volcanoes, so it is very steep with rugged peaks. The harbor at Akoura is very protected and the area was first settled by the French about 1840 so the town has lots of French street names, etc. Akaroa is another quaint, beautiful place and our cabin at the local Top 10 Park is up on the side of the hill and overlooks the harbor facing west. Location, location, location as the real estate people say! This morning it is raining and overcast so we are spending Sunday inside updating the log, doing laundry, and reading. I hope to get to the Internet café in town that has Wi Fi this afternoon so I can upload photos and this log.

Posted by Dick at 08:39 PM

March 02, 2007

Wellington and then to the South Island

We spent four days in Wellington before catching the ferry to Picton on the south island. Because of the overcast weather in Wellington, we limited our activities to indoor stuff and will do the outside stuff when we pass back through here at the end of March.
We first went to the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand and found it to be very complete and well done. They have a lot about the Maori culture and the early settlement of NZ. They also have a lot on the geological formation of NZ and the volcanoes. This part is sort of scary to me realizing that the whole country is made up of reasonably active volcanoes and violent plate tectonics movement. While we were in the museum, there was a small quake (a 3 or 4 on the Richter scale but neither of us felt it. The museum has a printout from the local seismograph and it showed the dates and locations of all the recent quakes. It turns out that there have been quite a few since we got here but we have not felt any of them! One of the exhibits is a Maori sailing catamaran and I was surprised to learn that these vessels cold sail at 20 to 25 knots! No wonder the Polynesians were able to explore the Pacific 1000 years ago.
We also went to the Wellington Nautical Museum and enjoyed it too. As you might expect from the name, it has a lot about the early settlers and the ships that brought them here and the shipwrecks that have occurred along the coast.
We visited the oldest remaining building in Wellington; a house built about 1860 by a local businessman. It is a very new country! We also stopped at the Anglican Church - Old St. Paul’s - that has wonderful interior woodwork.
I was able to track down the location of the giant squids kept by the research arm of the Te Papa Museum and was able to talk our way into a personalized tour by Bruce Martin who is a squid and fish scientist there. He was very accommodating and opened the large stainless steel coffin like boxes they keep them in. They were all very excited in that a commercial fishing vessel had just landed the biggest one ever – some 490 kg – and it was on its way to the museum. It had been in the local paper the day before. They are amazing creatures and it was fun to see one even though it was pickled.
Our crossing to Picton on the 24th was uneventful. The weather was beautiful and clear with little wind and waves. We found our Holiday Park and it was one of the best we have stayed in and at $50NZ per night a real bargain. We walked down to the local marina and had very good dinner at the Spinnaker Restaurant with a nice view of all the boats and the harbor.
The next day we signed up to ride along on the power catamaran that takes people to the various resorts along the Queen Charlotte Sound. It also drops off backpackers who are hiking along the trails. We met a young couple from Denver that were there on holiday. They are working for Raytheon in Antarctica who has a contract to clean up all the debris that has accumulated at the Ross station over the last 100+ years. Quite an experience for them.
The ride took us to Ship’s Cove where Cook landed 5 times during his three voyages. He must have liked it to return so many times and I could see why. It is a very protected and beautiful harbor and has fresh water, firewood and food to re supply his ships.
From Picton, we drove west across the bottom of the Marlborough peninsula to Nelson. It is called the sunshine capital of NZ but is a commercial port and industrial city so we just stopped for the night and then moved on through Greymouth to the Franz Josf glacier. The west coast of the south island gets a lot of rain and wind – it is right in the path of the “roaring 40’s” trade winds. In Greymouth we stopped for lunch and at the information center to sign up for our half day walk on the glacier. We also booked our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound at the same time since it looked like these get sold out and we didn’t want to miss this adventure.
The glacier walk was great but very strenuous for both of us. The guide company fits you out with a waterproof coat, rubber walking boots, crampons, heavy wool socks, wool mittens and a wool cap. We needed them all even though our afternoon walk was in relatively mild weather! They took us by bus to the trail where we had to walk another 2 kilometers to the face of the glacier. It is very steep and we were climbing up the face on steps that the guide company had chopped into the ice. We went through an ice tunnel at one point. On the way down, the trail is very steep and you need to be careful to keep you feet apart so the crampons don’t catch and trip you. I of course, did just that going back through the ice tunnel but was not hurt. It is not a good place to break a leg! It was a great day and well worth the $90 each cost.
On March 1st, we drove over the Haast Pass through the Southern Alps and on to Wanaka on the southern end of Lake Wanaka and stayed at another nice and inexpensive Top 10 park. We got caught up on our Internet messages and stock stuff. Today we crossed over the Cardona Pass to Queenstown. It is a major tourist area and we have signed up for a ride on the lake on an old steam powered boat, and will do the gondola cable car ride up to the top of the local mountain where there is a great view over the area. This Top 10 Park has Wi Fi service and so I shortly connect and upload pictures and this addition to the log.

Posted by Dick at 03:16 AM